A visit to an airport lounge can be a magical interlude during a day of stressful traveling. Getting into the lounge, however, can be a complicated affair.
For many travelers, Priority Pass has been the solution. Founded in 1992, the company is a collection of over 1,200 lounges in 600 airports in 148 countries. The majority of the locations have dedicated workspaces with free Wi-Fi, power sockets to recharge your devices, quiet zones and complimentary snacks and beverages; some include showers, spas and conference rooms.
Your travel patterns will dictate whether Priority Pass is a good value for you. Less than 100 of those 1,200 lounges are in the U.S., so you’d have to do a great deal of international travel for the membership to pay off. To compensate for this, Priority Pass recently extended their coverage to a consortium of airport restaurants where members receive a credit against their check.
How much does it cost? If you purchase the membership directly from Priority Pass, there are three levels:
Standard ($99 annual fee, plus $39 for each member and guest for every visit),
Standard Plus ($299 yearly; the member gets ten free visits, but guests are charged $32 each),
Prestige (unlimited member visits for $429, but guests still pay $32).
There’s an additional level called Priority Pass Select, which is offered as a benefit of some high-end travel cards. The benefits of Priority Pass Select vary from one card to another. The following cards give free access for the member and two guests, with additional guests charged between $27-32:
American Express Platinum Card ($550 annual fee)
Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN ($595)
Chase Sapphire Reserve ($550)
Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express ($450)
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card ($450)
In addition, these cards provide some form of restricted lounge access: Hilton Honors American Express Surpass card ($95), U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite ($400) and the Citi Prestige card ($495).
As mentioned, Priority pass started including restaurants in their program several years ago. Members and their guests are allowed a credit at participating restaurants that averages $28 per person; carry-out meals are generally excluded. There are currently 28 restaurants in domestic airports included, plus the House Spirits Distillery at Portland International (PDX). There are an additional 20 restaurants worldwide. Unfortunately, American Express no longer allows cardholders to use the restaurant credit, but Chase, Citibank and U.S. Bank still participate.
While the number of domestic airport lounges participating in Priority Pass comprises a small part of the total, they’re represented at many of our major airports:
Baltimore-Washington International (BWI)
Boston Logan (BOS)
Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
Colorado Springs (COS)
Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
Las Vegas (LAS)
Los Angeles (LAX)
Minneapolis St. Paul (MSP)
New York John F. Kennedy (JFK)
New York Laguardia (LGA)
Orlando International (MCO)
Orlando Sanford (SFB)
San Francisco (SFO)
San Jose (SJC)
San Juan (SJU)
Seattle Tacoma (SEA)
Washington D.C. Dulles (IAD)
While it’s far from a comprehensive list, many major airports (and connecting hubs) are included, increasing your chances of finding a lounge if you want one.
Outside of Priority Pass, your best option for lounge access is the American Express family of Platinum cards. In addition to the Priority Pass benefit, they include entry to the proprietary Centurion series of lounges, Delta Sky Clubs (when flying Delta the same day), Lufthansa lounges, and Airspace, Plaza Premium and Escape lounges. While the annual fees are stiff ($550-595), lounge access is only one of the luxury perks that comes with these cards.
So: Is Priority Pass worth it? It largely depends on your travel patterns and how frequently you fly outside the U.S. If you have to join and pay the membership fee, more often than not the answer will probably be no. It’s important to note that Priority Pass accesses many co-branded airline lounges; in those lounges, admittance to Priority Pass members is likely to be restricted during peak hours.
An important factor in your decision is how often you fly. If you’re an occasional traveler who flies once or twice each year, you can generally purchase a day pass for $50 per person. If your membership is a freebie that comes with a credit card, on the other hand, relax and enjoy the perk.
Read more: frugaltravelguy.com